Posted: Friday February 10, 2006 10:14PM; Updated: Monday February 13, 2006 3:51AM
"It was the first Winter Olympic event I ever saw," he says. "There were 75,000 people on the slopes that day and only a thousand of them had a chance to see Klammer. The rest just wanted to be able to cheer his name. It was extraordinary sight. Lampley put together a 10-minute piece about the economic impact of Klammer's victory on his sponsors and various constituents and how things might have been different if Bernard Russi, Klammer's Swiss rival had won the race. In the amateur Olympic universe, journalists rarely focused on the economics of victory.
Four years later, after the United States defeated the Soviet Union in the Miracle on Ice hockey game at Lake Placid, Lampley cornered Mike Eruzione, the team captain, as he was leaving the arena and told Eruzione he needed to grab him for an interview, as the evening show was going off the air.
"I can't," Eruzione told Lampley. "I'm heading to dinner with [U.S. goaltender Jim] Craig and his father." "Well," Lampley told him, "guess who's paying for your dinner." Lampley got his interview and feasted that night with the stars of what many consider the greatest sporting event of the century.
After working double duty at the Los Angeles Games in 1984, where he was both a swimming commentator and co-host of the late-night show, Lampley soon left the network after a falling out with Dennis Swanson, who had replaced Arledge as ABC Sports president. "It was quite a blow to have to give up my dream job," Lampley says. My mother had always said of the profession: 'You'll survive through equanimity. You're going to take some hits.' She knew."
If fact, Lampley owed nearly all the components of his career, from his love of words to his affinity for sports to his gift for storytelling, to his mother, Peggy Lampley.
"My dad died when I was five," he says, "My mom immersed me in sports as she felt my father would have done." Peggy Lampley purchased season tickets to University of Miami football games and even urged Jim to watch Sugar Ray Robinson on Friday Night Fights. She also impressed the value of language upon Jim and created a family tradition of dinnertime storytelling with her children that gave Jim the foundation for telling stories in front of a camera.
Lampley rebounded well from his ABC departure, bringing New York's sports radio station WFAN on the air as its first talk-show host. He found a niche as a boxing announcer for HBO and continued covering sports under the Olympic umbrella.
Though he rarely belied his cool, Lampley nearly lost it in 1998 while reporting about Sang Lan, the Chinese gymnast who became paralyzed at the Goodwill Games. Lampley's former wife, newswoman Bree Walker, suffered from Ectrodactyly, a genetic deformity that caused her fingers and toes to fuse, and was an outspoken proponent of disability rights.
"My first thought," Lampley recalls in a cracking voice, "was that this girl was going to be alienated when she went back to China. All my friends will tell you that I'm an emotional wet noodle. If something terrible happens, you sort of become two people: one person dispassionately reporting the facts and anther person saying oh my gosh."
It was the measuring of emotion with accuracy that often marked McKay's career and his influence was never lost on Lampley. "If you were to ask me whether I have a model in this business," he says, "Jim is as good a place to start as any ... He was fundamentally an introvert. He did not have a natural urge to be out front with the public. I grew to admire that, although at first it confused me when I worked with him. He was more of a living-room storyteller than a storyteller in front of the camera. He opened many doors for us, but he did it in a quiet, professional way. He was trying to add to the story, not become the story."
Near the end of Thursday's tour, Lampley stood on a hill and gazed down at the Po River. "Let's see, it extends to France in that direction," he said, pointing westward. "I'm looking for setting and context," explained, "just trying to orient myself, find my place."